This week in the magazine and here online, Anthony Lane reviews “Revenge of the Sith,” the sixth and final film in George Lucas’s “Star Wars” saga. In this review of the original “Star Wars” film, from September, 1977, Pauline Kael considers the movie’s “special, huge success.”
The loudness, the smash-and-grab editing, the relentless pacing drive every idea from your head; for young audiences “Star Wars” is like getting a box of Cracker Jack which is all prizes. This is the writer-director George Lucas’s own film, subject to no business interference, yet it’s a film that’s totally uninterested in anything that doesn’t connect with the mass audience. There’s no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the double sunset. It’s enjoyable on its own terms, but it’s exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus. An hour into it, children say that they’re ready to see it all over again; that’s because it’s an assemblage of spare parts—it has no emotional grip. “Star Wars” may be the only movie in which the first time around the surprises are reassuring. (Going a second time would be like trying to read “Catch-22” twice. ) Even if you’ve been entertained, you may feel cheated of some dimension—a sense of wonder, perhaps. It’s an epic without a dream. But it’s probably the absence of wonder that accounts for the film’s special, huge success. The excitement of those who call it the film of the year goes way past nostalgia to the feeling that now is the time to return to childhood.
Maybe the only real inspiration involved in “Star Wars” was to set its sci-fi galaxy in the pop-culture past, and to turn old-movie ineptness into conscious Pop Art. And maybe there’s a touch of genius in keeping it so consistently what it is, even if this is the genius of the plodding. Lucas has got the tone of bad movies down pat: you never catch the actors deliberately acting badly, they just seem to be bad actors, on contract to Monogram or Republic, their klunky enthusiasm polished at the Ricky Nelson school of acting. In a gesture toward equality of the sexes, the high-school-cheerleader princess-in-distress talks tomboy-tough—Terry Moore with spunk. Is it because the picture is synthesized from the mythology of serials and old comic books that it didn’t occur to anybody that she could get The Force?